Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.


The Backlash Begins in Some Unlikely Places

Spellings warns Utah in battle over federal act

By George Archibald

Just a reminder: This is Sun Yan Moon's Unification Church owned Right wing Newspaper. (MinnBEST)

Published April 20, 2005

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings sent a surprise letter denouncing Utah legislation to put state education goals ahead of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on the eve of a special session of the state's Legislature, which convened yesterday.
In the letter, sent Monday through Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, Mrs. Spellings warned that $76 million in federal funds might be cut off this year if the legislation passed and questioned motives of the bill's sponsors.
Utah legislators yesterday rebuffed the threat, with the House voting 66-7 to pass the bill. The Senate then approved the legislation 25-3.
Mrs. Spellings wrote that "several principles of the bill are troublesome, and appear to be designed to provoke non-compliance with federal law and needless confrontation."
The letter -- which warned that "the consequences of enacting and implementing this bill would be so detrimental to students in Utah" -- circulated through Salt Lake City by fax and e-mail Monday, building a wave of resentment among legislators, state officials said.
"I find it odd the threat of sanction would take away funds from the poorest schools," state Senate President John L. Valentine said before the final vote.
State Sen. Thomas Hatch, the bill's Republican sponsor in the Senate, emphasized during floor debate, "Nowhere in this legislation does it say we are opting out of NCLB. I don't think we're going to jeopardize federal funding. We're simply going to try to negotiate the best possible situation we can [with the federal government] and maintain control [of state education]."
Mrs. Spellings' implied threat of a funding cutoff propelled a backlash as the special legislative session convened.
"This is an extraordinarily worded letter," said state Rep. Margaret Dayton, a Republican and primary sponsor of the bill.
She said denunciation of Utah legislation by a federal official was an "unwarranted intrusion" on state autonomy, especially because local school districts and state taxpayers shoulder 100 percent of the responsibility and about 90 percent of the cost of Utah's 803 public schools.
The Education Department refused to comment.
Mrs. Dayton noted in House debate yesterday afternoon that Mrs. Spellings' letter stated in the first paragraph that passage of the Utah bill "does not guarantee non-compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act," thus federal funds would not be withdrawn.
"While the enactment of the bill itself does not guarantee non-compliance with NCLB, the implementation of a number of its provisions is likely to cause conflicts and trigger the consequences" of funding cutoff, Mrs. Spellings wrote.
"Utah provided binding assurances that it would comply with all NCLB requirements," so conflicts between Utah and the federal government on any issues could cause funding cutoff, she wrote.
In the letter's 25-line third paragraph, Mrs. Spellings warned that the department probably would cut off at least $76 million in federal funds this year for low-income school districts and teacher training in Utah under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) if the Legislature passed the bill.
In the Legislature's regular session last month, Mrs. Dayton's bill was unanimously adopted by the 73-member House, but Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is expected to sign the measure today, requested the state Senate to delay action and allow time for negotiations between Utah and Washington.
The discussions stalled over federal officials' insistence that Utah implement annual achievement standards mandated in the federal law in all the state's public schools, including an estimated 600 that do not receive federal ESEA funds.
In her letter, Mrs. Spellings criticized Utah's failure to close the achievement gap between white and minority students.
She pointed to a disparity in reported math achievement in 2003 under the state's standardized test and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) required under No Child Left Behind.
Under the state test, 74 percent of white eighth-graders and 47 percent of Hispanics were reported "proficient or advanced" in math, while just 34 percent of white and 7 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders were "proficient or advanced" on the NAEP math test.
Mrs. Dayton said yesterday that greater progress in closing the gap was prevented because the state's own education reforms were "not totally implemented. All our efforts were put on hold to implement NCLB."


Yecke needs to get new friends

From Parents United

This Morning at the Capitol

This morning at the Capitol the Minnesota Taxpayers League held a rally. About 100 people rallied for No New Taxes and about 30 folks that the speakers called “from the other side” were there to show support for increased revenues for Housing, Health Care and Education.

The event began with Jason Lewis, from North Carolina, encouraging Minnesotans to hold the line on taxes. David Strom. President of the Minnesota Taxpayer’s League, spoke next and explained that on April 2, Gov Pawlenty called him and said, “We need a rally--how about on Tax Day at 8AM?” Even though Mr. Strom thought that was short notice, he pulled it together. It may have been helpful that the state Republican Party distributed the emails. It might also explain why so many signs read, “Pawlenty-06”

When Mr Lewis returned to the podium it was to recognize a woman in the crowd who was holding a sign that said, “When did we stop seeing kids and start seeing tax burdens.” To that Mr. Lewis shouted—“And where do you get the right to take the food from my child to give to yours!” Often throughout the event those who held differing opinions from the No Tax Pledge people, were told to “get a job” and “get off welfare”. Those were interesting statements to the doctor in front of me—and the high school students who were holding signs that read, “Fees are Taxes” “Stop the Lies”.

Again Mr. Lewis returned to the podium and this time remarked to a person in the audience who held a sign saying “Willing to pay more for a better Minnesota”--“yeah—you mean you want to take my money to pay for a better Minnesota!” Does Mr. Lewis still pay tax in Minnesota—does anyone know?

He then called upon all of the non-profits in the group to “give some of all that money to the hard working folks here!” I didn’t see any non-profit groups represented in the crowd. He also congratulated the crowd for getting to the Capitol all on their own—not using any “government paid for buses. ” I suppose that was an oblique reference to the February Education Rally of oh, 6000- 8000 people.

When a gentleman came over to read my sign, which was pro education, he told me to “get the communists out of our schools.” I heard other parents there called socialists and communists.

Govenor Pawlenty was part of this amazing line up of speakers, as was Sen Gaither (R Plymouth), Speaker Sviggum and Ron Ebensteiner (Chair of the State GOP) and Congressman Kennedy. They all encouraged the rally participants to call their legislators and make sure they got the message that taxes were not to be raised.

The denouement of the event was when Mr. Strom invited all of the Republicans who are looking for the Republican endorsement for the 6th congressional seat to come forward to sign large facsimiles of the No Tax Pledge. Among others, Rep. Jim Knoblach, former Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke and Sen Michele Bachmann did just that. Some of you might remember that last week, Sen Bachmann had a hearing on her bill to fund schools. In that bill, she took all of the dollars that the Governor had in his budget and placed them on the per pupil formula. The revenue source for those dollars was local tax levies. Maybe if it’s local—it’s not a tax?

All in all the morning was quite eye opening. The anger of the crowd was reminiscent of the Civil Rights era. This writer thought we were finished with that level of hateful division.

Senator Kelley Weighs in on NCLB

No Child Left Behind adjustments needed

A bill to opt out of the federal government's version of No Child Left Behind has been moving through the Minnesota Senate. Its chief author, Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, said that it's time for states to quit approaching federal education officials on bended knee and to now demand changes.

"It's time to say this doesn't make sense," he said.

St. Paul Superintendent Pat Harvey reviewed Kelley's proposals that would give Minnesota education policy-makers more flexibility in meeting the demands of NCLB. She agreed with all of them, adding that when educators disagree with some parts of NCLB, it doesn't mean they want to avoid the work it requires.

Instead, they want to do the work well. She believes that today's version of the federal act is too punitive if an entire school can be labeled as not making adequate progress because of the performance of a subgroup.

"All of us agree that if five students aren't getting what they need, we all have to work on their improvement," she said. "But five kids shouldn't make an entire school fail."

NCLB relies heavily on annual testing in reading and math, expects that all children reach their grade level by 2014, and divides kids into subgroups according to income, race, English language ability and special education needs.

The law shines a bright light on the academic achievement of minority or impoverished children, for example. The way achievement is measured, however, reflects more on the school than the individual children. That's why Harvey objects to labeling a school as inadequate because of the inability of five children from a subgroup to show "adequate yearly progress," especially since the subgroups change every year. Rather than track yearly improvement, the federal law compares each class of third-graders with the previous year's class of third-graders. Wouldn't it make more sense to follow the academic progress of the same children from year to year?

It's that lack of sense that Kelley bristles at. If 10 Hispanic children do poorly in reading, their school might be labeled as failing. Say the next year those children show remarkable improvement, but seven English-language learners fall behind in English lessons. The school stays on the "needs improvement" list.

"I am not saying immigrants can't succeed," he said. "I am saying a one-size-fits-all rule for how to determine how kids perform at their full potential is an impossible task. Every community is different."

The St. Louis Park School District, for example, has received an influx of Russian immigrants. The kids are from an industrialized country with a written language. The Hopkins and St. Paul districts have received many Somali students who might never have seen a book, much less a written word. Holding the Somali children to the same standard as the Russian children is illogical, Kelley said.

His bill would revoke the contract the state made with the federal Education Department on NCLB. The state would then judge academic progress on a number of measures including testing, rather than today's testing focus. Sanctions for schools showing "inadequate progress" of special education children would be dropped, as well as for those whose student subgroups test below proficiency for at least two consecutive years.

One of the more dramatic measures in this bill is to basically thumb the state's nose toward federal funding provided through NCLB participation, and come up with an amount equal to that funding from the state. The federal government's position is, we'll pay if you play. Minnesota's position would be, thanks but no thanks.

Other states have stepped forward to challenge NCLB, including Utah, Connecticut, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia and Vermont.

I've listed only a few odd quirks of the federal law. Perhaps the oddest is the requirement that special education children meet the same "proficiency" levels as regular students. If the kids with cognitive impairments could succeed in regular classes, they would be there to start with.

Kelley's proposal lights a fire under a persistent problem that will only grow with time. The intent of the federal law is good, and few argue with the importance of meeting the needs of all children. But the focus should be the child, not just the test, subgroup or school.

Write Locke at dlocke@pioneerpress.com or 345 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55101.


A call for Responsible Governing

Arne H. Carlson: The state's revenue problem

April 3, 2005

Regardless of political persuasion, we want our governor and legislature to truly succeed because their success translates not only into our success but, more important, success for our children. This has always been the virtue of Minnesota -- its commitment to tomorrow. The budget is central to this commitment and should be seen as a financial expression of our vision.

Currently, Minnesota is at the crossroads. We can either take charge of our future and create a vision of a successful tomorrow or continue to satisfy the short-term in order to survive. Bear in mind, we have gone from an approximate $2 billion surplus in January 1999 to a deficit exceeding $5 billion and the loss of our AAA bond rating.

Political leaders have blamed this turnaround on 9/11 and the recession while totally forgetting their own role in digging this hole in 2000-2001. Simply put, Gov. Jesse Ventura and the House Republicans passed a financial package reducing commercial/industrial property taxes along with a taxpayer rebate that cost well over $2 billion.

Putting the merits aside, they ignored the warnings of the recession. Ventura tried to remedy this situation the following year with a package of tax increases and spending cuts but gubernatorial politics interfered and both legislative leaders, Tim Pawlenty and Roger Moe, declined to act. The result was that the deficits continued to grow.

Now, where do we go from here?

The administration should acknowledge that the state does have a revenue problem and cease this myth that all the problems are on the spending side. That rhetoric may be good for its political base but it strays pretty far from the truth.

Bear in mind that the administration has already borrowed a billion dollars, implemented massive accounting and tax shifts, and added hundreds of millions of dollars in cost increases from fees, tuition and local property taxes. Further, the administration wants to dramatically increase gambling, contrary to all of its past opposition. These actions would seem to indicate a desire to increase revenue.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the legislative leadership should, on a bipartisan basis, put together a financial management team that will review all spending and revenue options and attempt to arrive at an acceptable level of spending that properly funds our vision for tomorrow. Nothing should be off the table.

This group should include the administration, Legislature and former distinguished finance commissioners like John Gunyou, Jay Kiedrowski and Pam Wheelock, as well as some private-sector leaders.

Declare a one-year moratorium on all the wedge issues that seem to dominate legislative sessions. This includes abortion, gay marriage, guns, the death penalty and other distractions along the same line. The purpose here is not to demean that agenda but rather to compel the governor and Legislature once and for all to focus on the budget and restore the state to a sense of financial stability. It may also be well for the Capitol media corps to focus less on the politics of personality and more on the substance of policy.

The governor's current proposal for public transportation envisages a $4.5 billion bonding expense over the next 10 years with repayments totaling more than $7 billion spread over 30 years. Much of the debt service required to repay this expense will come from the general fund of the state, thereby creating a significant hole. Not only is this credit-card approach a highly questionable policy change, but it places the next administration in the position of having to make the painful choice of spending cuts or tax increases. That is hardly proper financial management. Each administration should leave with its house in good financial order.

The Legislature should consider instituting an 8¢-per-gallon tax increase so that we can continue to pay for transportation more on a current basis rather than placing the responsibility on future taxpayers. This added revenue may not be all that is needed, but it does represent a good start.

A $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes would be a solid revenue enhancer: It would bring more than $500 million into the state coffers. Right now, we as taxpayers are subsidizing the health care costs of smokers to the extent of some $3 or more per pack. That is not acceptable. A tax increase would not only compel many to cease smoking but also prevent some 60,000 children from starting. This is a clear win-win situation.

Finally, it would be well for the administration to make a thoughtful presentation to the Legislature relative to our long-term financial situation. It is important to know their plans relative to:

• Restoring the AAA bond rating.

• Paying back the money borrowed and correcting the accounting shifts.

• Bringing the budget into balance over the next four years.

• Designing the budget so that it fully conforms to Sarbanes-Oxley.

Much of this discussion places a burden on the majority party, which happens to be Republican. That responsibility comes with majority status. However, it should also be understood that the Democrats have an obligation to do more than simply complain. They should push for a bipartisan committee working with the governor and House on an acceptable budget solution. If that does not occur, Senate Democrats should assume the responsibility of preparing their own budget fully defining their expectations and vision. This allows for a competition of ideas that forms the basis for an election choice.

Arne H. Carlson, Forest Lake, is a former Republican governor of Minnesota.


The rally was a success!

From Parents United!
Thursday was our Virtual Rally—It was a smashing success!! Education was the talk of the Senate Caucus Thursday morning and so many of us wanted to get our message across that lines were being diverted as early as 7:30. Great job. However, many of us never got through. If you were one who couldn’t be heard, please drop an email to your legislator and the governor. At the Capitol, people are talking about education funding and that is thanks to you!

Best quote from an unlikely source

“This may shock some people, but I’d rather see a tax increase than the state get into the gaming business,” said David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

“Taxation is the appropriate way for government to fund itself. The fact that it’s painful is a good thing, because it makes people vigilant about the way their money is spent. Going for this pain-free type of government - it’s deceptive.”

- David Strom

Bachmann and Olsen try to pass a law legalizing Social Studies

Are founding documents being ignored?

The answer is no, but only thanks to the citizens who stood up to the Maple River Coalition and Bachmann last year.
The MRC wanted to ignore that pesky document called the CONSTITUTION.
They are also not crazy about the 1st Amendment.

More info available at http://dumpbachmann.blogspot.com

Norman Draper,
Star Tribune
March 30, 2005

They don't rock. They're squiggly-looking and hard to read. Most of them are old enough by a long shot to be museum artifacts.

America's founding documents might not have been written for an MTV-raised generation, but a couple of Minnesota legislators figure they deserve a lot more respect than they've been getting in the classroom.

Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, and Sen. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, have introduced legislation designed to make it easier for teachers to make such documents as the Mayflower Compact, the Federalist Papers, the Gettysburg Address and the U.S. Constitution part of their classroom instruction. Their bills would order school districts to "permit" teachers to read, study and post any documents relating to the history of the United States or Minnesota.

But is that necessary?

Many of the documents cited as examples in Olson's bill, for instance, are already cited as examples for use in the state's current social studies academic standards. Critics say that there's nothing in the law now that discourages teaching such bedrock documents, and that teachers haven't been complaining about being censored in their use of materials. They wonder why a law is needed here.

"Is there somewhere in state law where we discourage departure from the textbook?" wondered Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, whose Senate Education Committee discussed the Senate bill Tuesday.

Bachmann and Olson say teachers nationwide have shied away from such documents because of fears that they'll be introducing religious references contained in them. Younger teachers, they say, might be fearful of teaching outside the confines of the textbook, and this legislation would make it easier for them to be bolder in using original historical documents. Also, Olson and Bachmann said that they believe that there's too much that's negative being taught about American history, and not enough about the positive documents that formed the nation. And maybe they're not being taught at all, or being taught in severely abridged versions.

"I'm very concerned that these things are not being done now," Olson said. "Looking back, I came to realize these things were being removed. I began to learn these things after I got out of school, and came to appreciate them." Olson has introduced similar bills in past legislative sessions without success.

Bachmann cited a California case in which teachers were forbidden from teaching the Declaration of Independence and some of George Washington's writings because of the references to God and religion.

Under her bill, she said, "districts would not be able to limit or restrain instruction if there are religious references in any of these documents."

But some critics say the bills give teachers carte blanche to do whatever they want and render administrators powerless to control instruction that might be deemed inappropriate. What, wondered Bob Meeks, executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, is there in the proposals to prevent a teacher from blurting out passages of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" during a physical education class?

Neither bill is connected to last year's controversy over new state social studies academic standards, said the authors. Yet during last year's debate there were similar concerns to those voiced by Bachmann and Olson that too much of the positive side of American history was being left out of classroom instruction.

Both bills are pending in the education committees.

Norman Draper is at ndraper@startribune.com.